Forbidden Rule for Traders with Knowledge
This post is based on the talk I did, as with all other posts in this specific photo album. For those who are interested to know and understand one portion about how Islam came to the Malay world. It’s peculiar and I invite to read this possibly long post. It’s necessary to understand as I explain, other than the title, but also about scholars as ethical traders and some key principles they hold.
Scholars as traders.
There is a widely accepted claim that Islam spread in the Southeast Asia through Muslim traders. So impactful they were that the whole Malay world, albeit distant, embraced the religion from the foreign Arab lands and those near it.
Regarding the traders, this truth needs to be read carefully – partly because there are sectors who claim that the Islam taken by the Malays was from ‘mere traders.’ Therefore the Islam taken, were surface (cultural, ritual) and not steeped in knowledge.
In simple terms, all this sort of language leads to the reducing the significance and magnitude of what took place – mass amount of people becoming Muslims, over a span of time, across the region, based on knowledge and peacefully.
One non-Muslim historian I met, explained that some inaccurate historian(s) have mentioned in describing the coming of Muslims to the Malay world, ‘..within one to two generations, they ‘took over’ the palaces (of the Sultans).’
‘Zain this is a terribly wrong way to put it. Yes, the Hadhrami scholars were accepted by the Sultans within one to two generations being in the Malay world but as counselors in religious matters, as government officers and as son-in-laws.’
‘They came gradually, one by one or few by few on their own, with books. Using the terms ‘took over’ indicates what? They did not come with fleets of gunboats and rifles. Such inaccurate language change facts as to how history is understood.’
The Sultanates of Malaya and the Ahlul Bayt.
In Malaysia today, nine of its territories have sultans. Seven – Johore, Selangor, Kedah, Perak, Terengganu, Kelantan, Perlis – of which have direct or indirect lineage to the Ahlul Bayt (People of the House), descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The same applies to the Sultanate of Brunei. More if you count other Sultanates which no longer exist in today’s context like Pontianak, Patani, Mindanao, etc.
Tareem, Hadhramout has the highest concentration of the descendants and they come via the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) second grandson, al-Hussein. There, they are known as the Ba’Alawis – the family of Alawi. Another historian pointed out to me that this is not the same as the Alawis of Syria, although the latter often doesn’t mind when people equate the two.
Ali (Khali’ Qasam) bin Alawi who died around 1134, is fifteen generations from his grandfather Muhammad (pbuh). He is the first of the descendants to be buried in Tareem. Previous generations (up to his sixth grandfather, al-Muhajir Ahmad bin Isa from Basra, Iraq) were buried in other parts of the Hadhramout valley.
Ba’aAlawi and al-Faqih al-Muqaddam.
Ali’s son though, Muhammad (Sahib Mirbat), is buried in Mirbat, Oman – next to the valley of Hadhramout. His grandson, Muhammad bin Ali (al-Faqih al-Muqaddam) (1178-1255) is considered the most significant figure in the Ba’Alawi for he set with clarity the way of the Ba’Alawi and those who choose to follow it.
One key element, is that Islam cannot spread with the sword and this was manifested by him breaking his sword in public declaring peace during one of the many eras of tribal conflict in the valley. This was also a time of intentse distrust where some people would have swords on their laps while reciting the Qur’an.
On top of that, community and political leaders always felt threatened by the popularity the Ahlul Bayt descendants held with the public – as has been the case for generations, thus it helped when that declaration indicated their non-desire for political leadership, as did al-Hassan in his time – this first grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
At the same time, al-Faqih’s uncle, known as Amm al-Faqih (literally Uncle of al-Faqih) also son to Sahib Mirbat, would bear descendants that in the Malay world. Of the famous callers to Islam, the Wali Songo (Nine Saints), eight of them are from descendants of Ahlul Bayt. One was a Javanese known as Sunan Kali Jaga.
No depending on da’wah for livelihood.
Another element in the way of the Ba’Alawi scholars and others who choose to exemplify them is that they are not allowed to mix knowledge and religion with dependency on livelihood. This is not to be confused with criticizing others who do. Back to them..
They can take salary as a teacher, that’s a job. Frequent or occasional gifts can be accepted but not depending upon it for basic means. To go around doing talks, promoting religion with business that makes them depend their basic income on this – it is forbidden as among other things, this will corrupt knowledge and religion.
Many of their scholars, who spend a lot of time calling people to Islam are an example of this till present day. The teacher of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad, was Habib Ahmad Mashur al-Haddad – a shopkeeper in Mombasa.
Two others that I personally know, came to Singapore and took on jobs as an office clerk and the other a textile trader. The former was asked to be a Qadhi (Judge) in his twenties and the latter was actually part of the Fatwa Council in his mid-teens. This says a lot in a town where jurisprudence is treated very seriously.
The truth about the traders, yes they were traders. They came as traders. One academic told me, ‘even if they were indeed ‘mere’ traders, they must have traded in such high ethical manner that people were attracted to them to more than just their trade. If their ethics were poor, no one would want any more to do with them, likely not trade even. And where if not Islam do you think they derive their ethics from?’
Habib Ahmad Mashoor al-Haddad once when weighing rice on a scale for a customer, turned of the ceiling fan. When asked of that unnecessary odd action, he replied ‘I want to be sure that the fan does not influence the weight of the rice, so as to lead me to selling you short.’
This is a Muslim trader. Based on principles and ethics. Unfortunately today a Muslim business is defined more by what it trades and not how it trades. FYI, Habib Ahmad’s teacher is the late renowned Mufti of Johore, Malaysia – Datuk Syed Alwi bin Taher al-Haddad.
To not know.
Anyhow, yet another academic pointed out with regards to scholars of the Malay world and not specifically on the Ba’Alawis, ‘if you look at the letters exchanged between the scholars within the Malay world region around 16th and 17th century and the subjects they were discussing, these were high level things which few of us grapple nowadays. They discussed fine points of creed.’
‘This also showed there was a network between them. And look at the poetry they wrote. How it was written and what they were discussing. The sya’ir form of poetry (pantun) was formulated by the ‘ulama who mastered many sciences including law and spirituality. This all speak volumes about history.’
‘All these people talking this and that, aren’t aware of history. Perhaps they know but don’t understand. Either that, or for whatever reason they harbor intentions to downplay something very great.’
*Please correct me of any factual mistakes made here and otherwise.